My first taste of German camera engineering came in the form of the impossibly tiny Minox 35GL, sold untested for a bargain price. A quick battery change and it was good to go. Occasionally the meter needle would stick at the top of the viewfinder, but a good whack on the bottom of the camera jarred it free.
- Type – Folding lens compact
- Exposure – Aperture priority auto
- Shutter – 1/500 – 3 sec
- Aperture – f2.8 – f16
- Focus – Guess focus
- Lens – 35mm f2.8
- ASA – 25 – 800
- Size (mm) – 61 x 100 x 31
- Other stuff – Hot shoe, backlight compensation, uses 4 SR44 cells
The Minox is one of the smallest 35mm cameras in the world, owing to it’s retractable lens. Whilst the Olympus people used fancy lenses to compact their XAs, Minox used good old fashioned engineering. There is no film door on the 35GL, the entire back of the camera comes off to change film, and the design means there’s no need for light seals. The camera body is made of plastic, and it’s lightweight and a bit rattly but still feels very solid. The plastic is thick and not likely to break under anything less than a hammer blow.
Prior to using the Minox, I had relied on the zone focusing of my Olympus XA2 and the guess focusing of the Minox was a new challenge for me. The focus is set on the lens barrel, as you would expect, along with the aperture setting. A needle in the viewfinder moves as the aperture is adjusted, showing over and under exposure limits. Trial and error with the estimate focusing was surprisingly fun, and I was often impressed with my guess work.
I was also impressed with the resulting photos themselves. I shot a dozen rolls through the Minox and I’ve very rarely been disappointed. The lens is very contrasty and performs really well wide open, with impressive OOF areas and lovely colour rendition.
Using the Minox is quick and easy, despite the manual aperture. I tended to set the aperture as the weather and light levels dictated and then quickly estimated focus prior to framing, usually ignoring the meter reading and hoping for the best. And, as I said, the meter never let me down.
It’s impossible to not compare the Minox to the XA2, and to be honest I can’t choose a favourite. I ended up selling the Minox in financial desperation but held on to the XA2 because of its effortlessness and lovely vignetting. I do miss the Minox though, something about its blocky design and rough plastic was very satisfying, and the photos it produced consistently impressed. The internet is full of murmurs of Minox cameras being unreliable, and despite never having had a problem, the threat of it suddenly dying was always in the back of my mind.
Unreliable perhaps, perhaps not, but if you find one, use it. It’s a unique and rewarding experience.